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    Wednesday, February 11, 1998

    How long does it last?

     TORONTO (CP) -- Just how long do traces of marijuana linger in the body?
     It's a question that has come to the fore with the news that Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati has been stripped of his Olympic gold medal in Nagano because of a positive drug test for marijuana.
     Canadian Olympic Association officials say the 26-year-old snowboarder from Whistler, B.C., told them he had not used marijuana since last April.
     "He claims the small amount found in his system is due to the significant amount of time that Ross spends in an environment where he is exposed to marijuana users," said Carol Anne Letheren, the COA's chief executive officer.
     Dr. Andrew Pipe, chairperson of the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, said the amount of time traces of marijuana remain in the system depends on a range of factors -- from body weight to how much of the drug was ingested.
     "It's highly variable," he told CBC-TV today from Ottawa. "I think one can say certainly that if the last time that the athlete used marijuana was in April, that the amount that was found in the urine the day he was tested on the 8th bears no resemblance to ingestion in April. It just wouldn't be there."
     Pipe, who is helping the COA with its appeal, said his research shows the claim of second-hand smoke playing a part "is not beyond the realm of possibility.
     "There are suggestions in a number of scientific papers that individuals exposed in environments where there is a dense amount of marijuana smoke will have very significantly elevated levels of marijuana and marijuana metabilites in their urine," Pipe said.
     This issue is also key in workplace drug testing.
     "In workplace testing, we used to have a level of 20 (parts per million) and we used to have a lot of 'false positives' where people were getting readings just from consuming second-hand smoke," said Casey Wade, the Ottawa-bsaed centre's director for drug-free sports.
     The standard for workplace testing has been raised to 50 ppm because that's more indicative of individuals who actually used the drug, Wade said.
     The IOC said Rebagliati's positive test produced a 17.8 figure.
     The IOC does not list any specific level of marijuana. However, the International Ski Federation lists a threshhold of concentration of 15 nanograms per millilitre.
     Michael Wood, president of the Canadian Swowboard Federation, said Rebagliati had been tested twice for drugs in mid-Septmeber and mid-December prior to coming to the Games.
     "There were small traces of marijuana that were below the level set out by FIS (the international ski federation)," he said.